Following up Code Name Verity with Rose Under Fire was not one of my brighter ideas. Verity left me heartbroken and in depression (I still don’t think I’m over Julie) and this was just as intense if not more so.
We are still in the same world as Verity with some of the characters from the previous books also appearing here but the main protagonist was a new character and her struggle was significantly different from Julie and Maddie’s. Rose Under Fire introduces us to Rose Justice, another ATA pilot ferrying beat up planes for repair as well as other non-combat missions. During one such routine mission, Rose suddenly finds herself blocked by two German planes and before she can fully comprehend what’s happening, she is behind enemy lines. She is soon sent to Ravensbrück prison camp. What follows is her struggle, not only to survive but to also retain her sanity while doing so.
Rose Under Fire was more bleak than Verity. For one, Verity provided some laugh out loud moments courtesy Julie. Her writing was at once hilarious and horrifying. Well, here the hilarious bit was missing. It was one horrifying moment after another till they started blending into each other. Wein’s world-building is brilliant (somehow I don’t think wonderful is the right word, not in this context) You really are transported into that horrible world with its concrete walls and overflowing ditches. It is a fully realised world and while reading, you can’t help but visualise the world the character suddenly finds herself in. And yet, every time I visualised it, I could only see a world devoid of colour, full of dull greys. But if Wein’s world-building is great then her character development is even better. Each character, no matter how much time they spent on paper, was fully realised and relatable. From the resourceful Elodie to Lisette, the camp mother.
Its portrayal of the characters’ struggle was really well done. Especially when Rose escapes and is put up at the Ritz in Paris. She is even less sure of herself here than she was in the camp. She has no idea what to do with herself now that she has time and freedom, with nobody barking orders and no sirens going off. That even in freedom, she felt removed from those around her, even her friends.
Unlike Verity, Rose Under Fire is told from just one point of view, save for one chapter that was from Maddie’s viewpoint. The rest of the book followed the same template with regard to non-linear narrative. It kept jumping back and forth in time and far from being annoying, it was a relief. It was a relief when her account of the camp was followed by what was happening in the present because it gave the readers a break as well.
What I loved about Rose was that she was a normal character. She was just like the rest of us. There were times when she gave up and yet there also times when she persevered. She was human.
I also loved Irina with her plane building and no-nonsense attitude. Then there was Lisette, the Lagermutter (camp mother), who was kind and loving in that brutal environment. I was glad to see more of Anna (or not, considering she was also at the camp as a prisoner) There was Roza with her sharp tongue and Karolina, the animator. I also loved the resourceful Elodie, she who could get you anything from cigarettes to sugar cubes. She was hardly present in the book and yet made such a lasting impression. I’m not exaggerating when I say this book is heartbreaking. You come to love so many characters and you know that they’re not all going to make it and yet, even as you accept that, their death hits you like a sucker punch all the same.
Rose Under Fire was a gripping read and one of the best books I’ve read this year (this along with Code Name Verity) It was immersive and rich with detail and real characters who you can’t help but care about.
P.S. – I was so happy when Rose and Roza met again. I like to believe that Roza lived with Rose in Scotland and was part of a family again. I would have liked to see Irina again but was happy to know that she was safe and that Lisette was also a writer. Lastly, I want to believe that Rose did go and testify at Hamburg, in favour of Anna Engel and perhaps took her flying after it was all over.